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THE HEAVENLY INTERCOURSE OPENED, AND THE
GOERS AND COMERS DESCRIBED.
JOHN i. 51.
" And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter
open, and the angels of God ascending and decending upon the Son of man."
There are few texts in the Bible that have
appeared more dark and obscure to me than this, and that for various reasons.
1. There is nothing, that I know of, following this passage in the New Testament, which appears to me to explain, or that leads to the sense of it, as is frequently the case in other matters; as, for instance, when the Lord said, “There be some of them that stand here which shall not taste of death till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Again: “ John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended as a cloven tongue of fire, and abode upon the apostles, and filled them, they were baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. And as the kingdom of God stands in righteousness, peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost, the kingdom came at this time with power, and those that were enlightened saw it and felt it. But were have we any account in the New Testament of the angels of God being seen ascending and descending as here described, except in the foregoing passage? 2. Whatever be the meaning of the passage,
it contains a promise of something to be seen by Nathanael, though perhaps not to the exclusion of others. The matter in the text is expressive of something exceeding great; for upon Nathanael's confession of faith this promise was given. “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the king of Israel.” In answer to which Jesus replies, “ Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.” Nathanael had seen the Son of God and king of Israel with the eye
of faith, and with the eyes of his body he saw him in the flesh; he believed in him, and confessed his faith in him as his own saviour, king, and lord, and was accepted and approved; and he obtained a good report, through faith, that he was “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.”
And what sight under heaven can be greater than this? What are angels? the work of the Saviour's hands, the creatures of his care, and his most noble and honourable servants. But sure I am that a sight of all the angels together, both ascending and descending, can never equal, much less excel, a believing view of Christ, as Christ declares this sight shall: “Because I said, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these; for verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
3. Whatever may be the sense of this text, it is plain that it is something to excite Nathanael's admiration, and to encourage bis faith and hope; whereas a view of angels has often awakened the fears and terrors even of the best of saints, and has rather frightened than encouraged them. Daniel's comeliness turns into corruption, and he faints away, at the sight of one. Zacharias, at the sight of an angel, was troubled, and fear fell upon him, Luke i. 12; and Manoah concluded that he should surely die, when an angel had appeared to him. And even Jacob himself, who really saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon a ladder, and from which vision the words of my text are taken, even “ he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place!"
4. I have at times doubted whether the appearance of angels has been so frequent under the gospel dispensation as under the law. The law was given by the disposition of angels; “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” But not so the gospel, for that “at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” Hence the gospel of the Messiah, which the Jews always called the
world to come, dividing the world into three periods: the first before the law; the second under the law; the third the world to come, or the days of the Messiah. “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak,” Heb. ii. 5.
5. The next difficulty that appears to me in this text is, the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man. The elect angels never sinned. God and they were never at a distance; nor were they ever at enmity, so as to stand in need of a mediator; nor are they included in his mediation; and it is certain that Christ took not on him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham, Heb. ii. 16. “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” He, by his blood, is the new and living way, which he hath new made for us, and the redeemed shall walk there, Isaiah xxxv. 9. The office of Christ as mediator, and his whole work of mediation, being appointed for men, and confined to men, it appears strange to me to find the angels ascending and descending on the Mediator, or in that way which is consecrated for us.
It is true, every spiritual blessing from God the Father comes to us through Christ, and every acceptable sacrifice goes up from us to God the same way, and no other; but then the angels do go
and come on the Son of man in this work; for it is not angels, but the Holy Ghost, that brings every promise and blessing through Christ
to us. Some say the sense is, that there would be immediately made such clear discoveries of his person and grace by his ministry, and such miracles would be wrought in confirmation of it, that it would look as if heaven was open, and the angels of God were continually going to and fro, and bringing fresh messages, and performing mira: culous operations; as if the whole host of them were constantly employed in such service. But their bringing messages, and perforniing operations, is what I do not understand. And their saying that it would look as if heaven was open, &c. that If, and that Look, or mere appearance, does not seem to require the double asseveration of Verily, verily, I say unto you. Besides, the Lord does not say that it shall look as if it were so and so, but Verily, verily, you shall see heaven
The heayens opening at certain times is what we often read of, as in Ezekiel. He tells us first that the heavens were opened to him, and that he saw visions of God. In which vision he saw a whirlwind, the emblem of the Holy Spirit of God, and a fire enfolding or catching itself in after every breaking forth; which fire represented the word and grace of God, which are to inflame the souls of God's saints as the Holy Spirit is pleased to communicate them; and upon the back of every breaking forth there succeeds a catching in; and this every child of God knows and laments. Out of the flames came four living creatures,